Uh oh, THQ... watch out; there is a new contender in the wrestilng game genre in town thanks to Konami. Next month, gamers across the world will finally get another option in the wrestling game genre courtesy of Lucha Libre: Heroes del Ring for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and the Nintendo Wii. I have been fortunate enough to spend quite a bit of time with the Xbox 360 version of the game over the past few weeks and think that die-hard wrestling fans could be in for a treat.
First off, I think that it is very important for players of the game to know and understand the pedigree of the promotion from which Lucha Libre AAA gets its license. AAA is, arguably, the most popular wrestling promotion south of the border. The federation is based out of Mexico City and does shows throughout Mexico and the Southwestern United States. AAA has also been known to promote shows in Japan as well. The federation was started in 1992 by Antonio Pena and has been a major launching pad for many modern stars in the wrestling business including Rey Mysterio Jr., Eddie Guerrero, and K-Dog himself, Konnan. AAA has participated in numerous talent relation / trading programs with the top US wrestling promotions over the years, including WWF/WWE, WCW, ROH, and most currently TNA. Don't be fooled just because you don't know the name, the pedigree is strong with AAA.
One should also understand going into the game that the lucha libre style of professional wrestling is a little bit different than what we know as wrestling in the United States. In lucha libre promotions across the board, not just AAA, the fans are everything; careers are made and destroyed by fans and the reactions that the performers are able to draw from them. Technically, you could say the same thing for North American wrestling promotions, but lucha libre takes it to a whole new level. There are two classifications of wrestlers in the AAA promotion, the Tecnicos and the Rudos; in the US we often refer to them as faces and heals... or good guys and bad guys. The AAA promotion focuses heavily on these two factions and individual wrestlers are usually strongly aligned with one side or the other. The gameplay system of Heroes del Ring, which we will get into in more detail here shortly, is based heavily on this alignment system. It is important to you and your success that you play your "role" within each faction accordingly. If you are playing as a Tecnicos wrestler you will see a huge benefit from keeping your fighting style(s) clean and following the rules; on the other hand, as a member of the Rudos you will want to do everything in your power(s) to make sure that the fans despise your every move. You will need to do this through not only your techniques in (and out) of the ring but also by utilizing your various taunts to rally or infuriate the crowd as needed. It is this concept of fan support, or hatred for that matter, that fuels the gameplay system in AAA. The success of your characters moves and attacks is based on the amount of crowd reaction that you draw; the stronger the reaction that you have coming from the crowd, the more likely your character is to win a lockup / grapple with your opponent and to pull off stronger, more effective moves.
When it comes to the fine details of the gameplay system, you could describe the game as perhaps the closest thing to Aki system that gamers have seen in years. The Aki that was popular during the Nintendo 64 generation of wrestling games and is often credited for breathing a new life into the wrestling game genre. Perhaps I am just impartial because of my fond memories of the classic games from that period, but I absolutely love the Aki system over those that are utilized by other wrestling games now days. While the control systems that are being used in the Smackdown vs. Raw games have been improving dramatically over the past few years, I still dream of a day where a wrestling game with the same control scheme. It is hard to cite exactly what makes this control system preferable to me over other control schemes; it is a mix between its simplicity and its effectiveness that just adds a "fun factor" to games that use it those other games seem to lack. This isn't meant to discredit the Smackdown versus Raw games in any ways, as the recent improvements in their games are edging closer to the type of system I speak of, it is just a matter of my personal preference.
The Aki-style system of controls utilized by Lucha Libre AAA is built around the concept of weak and strong grapples. This premise, combined with the importance of fan reaction, requires gamers to gain momentum and support (or heat) from the crowd in order to widen your arsenal of moves. The right trigger initiates a weak grapple, which will allow you to then follow up with a face button of your choice that will trigger something along the lines of a short-armed clothesline or perhaps a bodyslam. It doesn't take much to successfully pull off weak grapple moves, unless your opponent has really got the crowd momentum swung in their direction. Strong grapples on the other hand, which are initiated with the left trigger, require some serious crowd reaction in order to successfully complete. You will want to both wear down your opponent with weak grapple-moves, strikes, and submission moves, as well as work on the crowd in order to build yourself up to completing the stronger, more complicated moves that are started with the strong grapple. The game also includes a decent counter attack system that is fueled b a correctly timed right bumper press. The game will tutor you along the way in terms of the correct countering techniques. You will want to time your bumper press along with the strike of your opponent; the game will notify of your timing errors if you happen to fail on the counter execution. The game tells you whether or not you pressed the button too early or too late. You will need to pay attention to the animation and style of your opponent’s attack though as the timing will differ depending on the attack that is coming at you. As you land successful attacks and counter-attacks on your opponent, you will gain points that measure / equate to the reaction of the crowd. The points, along with taunts, build up a meter of stars located under your lucha's name; once all of the stars he been filled you can trigger your signature move. Signature moves are initiated by pressing both trigger buttons; once “triggered” you simply need to engage your opponent with a strong grapple and your character will complete their strongest (signature) move. Nailing one of these moves on your opponent usually gives you the best chance to successfully pin your opponent and win the match; it doesn’t guarantee a victory though as a strong opponent can still kick out before the refs hand hits the canvas on three.
Lucha Libre AAA also relies on various button pressing-style mini games for its submission and pinning systems. Both moves, submissions and pins, are initiated with the press of either trigger button, but the opponent will then be given a chance to break such a hold. When it comes to submission and pin moves, the wrestler on the receiving end of the move will be given a prompt to rapidly tap a certain face button. This button will change every couple of seconds, so you will be required to pay close attention to the required button at any given time; pounding on any button different than the one being requested will only swing the momentum further into your opponent’s favor. Swinging the momentum over to your direction with the correct presses though will allow you to not only break out of the situation, but potentially counter the said move with your own attack. The combination of all of these elements creates a gameplay system plays out well over the course of a match. The momentum system helps to keep a nice “flow” going and helps players craft a dramatic performance with their opponent that creates and interesting match that is often as exciting to watch as it is the play out.
While the gameplay system itself works well from a control aspect, the game does suffer a slight setback with the collision detection when it comes to combat near the edge of the ring. Many of your stronger strikes completed near the ropes will launch your opponent out of the ring. This can be an effective tool in many occasions, but the game often send the opponent out of the ring when you don’t want them to go. The animations involved with said ring exits are often quite awkward, as the characters just seem to flop out of the ring. There is little to no grace involved with such a ring exit and it just looks bad. The same thing could be said, to a slightly lesser degree, with aeriel moves performed from the top rope(s). This is a sad fault in the game considering that the lucha libre style of wrestling focuses rather heavily on aerial assault moves. There are a lot of wrestlers in the game that have high-flying arsenals, so, theoretically, you would think that the aerial combat system would be as refined as the grappling and base gameplay system. Sadly this isn’t the case. The moves and aerial abilities are there, but it just looks sloppy in many cases and ruins the flow and feel of the matches. Granted, many may consider this to be a minor gripe in the big picture of things but I found myself bothered by it and was left to wonder just how great things could have been had they nailed the aerial aspect of the game.
Gamers will put these techniques and gameplay together in a wide variety of modes including both single and multiplayer options. Lucha Libre AAA includes the following game modes: Pride Battle (exhibition), King of Kings (tournament), online matchmaking, training mode (learn the basics as well as advanced techniques), and Story Mode (career campaign). Sadly, the online mode was not available in the preview build of the game that I have been playing. While the Pride and King of Kings modes are pretty self explanatory, the story mode deserves a little bit more of an explanation. Story Mode is the key to unlocking additional playable characters in the game (roster details will be discussed below) as special videos about the AAA promotion that can be viewed from the options menus. There are two separate campaigns to play through, one for the Tecnicos and one for the Rudos. You will play through a majority of the story mode using an original luchador that you will create when you start the mode; there will be points in time during the story’s progress where you will be given control as one of the existing luchadors in the game. The game features a really good character creation mode that allows you to build your own wrestler form the ground up. You will get a chance to customize everything about your character from their name, outfits, Tecnicos / Rudos alignment, and wide variety of moves and attacks. The best aspect of the character creation mode is the extensive mask options included in the editor. Masks are a huge deal in the world of lucha libre wrestling and Lucha Libre AAA gives you a rather large assortment of mask options that allows you to create your own, custom mask(s). Players will choose from a wide variety of base options for their masks but then go on to tweaks the colors throughout the mask, accenting the various details, and to customize a wide variety of details including the eyes, mouth, and accessories including horns and attachments to make your mask bigger and more fearsome.The luchador editor is also available from the main menu, though the game only gives you four slots for created characters. Considering that you will likely play through a campaign for each faction of the game, which will consume two of the slots and you will only be left with two slots for your own creations. I would love to see more slots offered to the player(s) so that you can build up the roster more to our liking. Half of the fun of these types of games is the creation modes that allow you to make it your own; unfortunately though, having only four slots stifles any ability to truly make the game your own. AAA also gives you a banner editor that will allow you to customize up to four signs that the crowd will hold up during various matches. The editor gives you a choice of a small variety of sign/banner “styles” and then allows you to alter the message and the font(s). This adds a nice touch to the experience of seeing actual signs in the crowds supporting your own custom luchadors.
If you don’t want to make your own characters aside form those required to complete the story mode, the game gives you a decent roster of actual AAA wrestlers to choose from. Unless you have followed the promotion yourself over the past couple of years, most of the roster of the game will be completely unknown to you but there is likely to be a few familiar names in the bunch. Wrestling fans from the mid-90's WCW era will recognize some faces such as La Parka (same gimmick, different wrestler under the mask), Silver King, Vampiro, and Konnan. The rest are likely unknown to anyone who isn't an actual AAA fan. Know this though: the roster is a decent size and rather diverse. You are sure to find someone of your liking in the mix be it one of the high flyers or perhaps one of the down and dirty brawlers. The roster on the 360 and PS3 versions will include 31 wrestlers, but only 12 will be selectable when you boot up the game for the first time. In order to access the rest, you will need to progress through the game's career mode and earn them by defeating certain opponents during the course of your career.
I cannot lie, I enjoyed my experience with Lucha Libre AAA: Heroes del Ring. As I mentioned previously, the game brought back a lot of fond memories from the Nintendo 64, wrestling games of old that I played endlessly during my college years. The game is a lot of fun and is a great start for a new series in the wrestling genre; that being said, Konami has an uphill battle to face in the juggernaut that is its competitor, Smackdown vs. Raw. The game is headed in the right direction though and I think that gamers will find a lot to like in this game. The gameplay system is simple and works extremely well, and roster is diverse and interesting. I have a feeling that the online mode(s) of the game could be the deal breaker in the project though and the game will definitely see benefit from a well-developed online mode, which is something that the genre as a whole as been seriously lacking. THQ is still making strides in that department and it is the one area that Konami can definitely take a stand and make a mark with. I guess that only time will tell though as the game is scheduled o hit stores in just a few short weeks. Luche Libre AAA: Heroes del Ring will be released for the Xbox 360, PlayStation3, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS, and PlayStation Portable on October, 12, 2010.